January 18, 2015

When "Have a good day" isn't good enough

Drove into Baltimore today for lunch and a movie and had a couple of interactions with homeless folks while I was in town. The first offered me a parking ticket that supposedly had an hour of time on it-- Baltimore's got those centralized parking meters at which you pay for a period of time and leave the ticket on your dash with the expiration time showing.  The local homeless folk have started a practice of collecting tickets that still have time on them from people who are leaving their spaces and then selling them to the next person who drives up and parks.  I declined.  Not because I didn't want to help the guy out, but because it just felt so much like a scam.  Which it's not, really (at least I don't think there's a way they could be scamming). So I'm not sure why I feel that way about it.  When I came back to the car after lunch, the guy very pleasantly told me to have a good day. I half-smiled and mumbled a reply, got in the car, and drove off.

The second guy approached my car along MLK Boulevard as I was stopped at a light. He'd already passed a couple of cars that didn't lower their windows, so I fished a couple bucks out of my pocket and lowered mine to hand the money out to him when he got to me.  He said "Thanks, beautiful. How's your Sunday going?" I didn't know how to reply. It was grey and dreary and rainy out, I'd just seen a film that left me devastated (Selma, holy hell), and I was in a bit of distraught mood.  But otherwise my day had been fine.  I had nothing to complain about, especially compared to someone who lived beneath an underpass and might not have any idea when he'd have his next meal.  I finally came out with "Oh, it's going ok". His reply was philosophical, something about at least we both woke up that morning and you've got to be grateful for that.  Then the light changed and the cars in front of me began to move and I had to go. I said "Take care", raised the window, and drove off.

What do you say to a homeless person in these situations?  They're a person like any other, but I always feel like the typical responses of everyday, just-passing-by chit-chat just aren't appropriate.  When someone who's panhandling wishes you a good day, the standard, habitual "Thanks! You, too!" seems dismissive of the difficulty of their existence.  I considered telling the guy I encountered at lunchtime, "I hope you do, too", but then that struck me as presumptuous.  Isn't it patronizing to assume he's not doing just fine despite his circumstances?  I just don't know.

There's no moral to this, and it's nothing fantastic that I wanted to share with others. It's just stuff I had to get out of my head.

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